'A Good Person' review: Pugh, Freeman find truths in opioid drama

Adam Graham, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

Writer-director Zach Braff takes on a host of big picture issues, from grief and loss to trauma to the opioid crisis, in "A Good Person," by far his best and most realized film to date.

It helps that it hangs on the shoulders of two considerably gifted actors, Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, who find the emotional truths in Braff's screenplay. But Braff takes care of the rest, grounding the drama in a recognizable version of reality and keeping the overbaked melodrama, for the most part, to a minimum.

Pugh plays Allison, who as the film opens is getting ready to marry her fiance, Nathan (Chinaza Uche). One day while driving to try on wedding dresses with Nathan's sister and her husband, Allison is involved in a car wreck, which kills her two passengers and leaves her bruised and scarred, but in a position where she'll recover. Physically, at least.

The story picks up one year later as Allison is living at home with her mother, Diane (Molly Shannon). Allison is running low on Vicodin, on which she has grown quite dependent, and her mother is gently trying to wean her off her addiction. Not even Allison is aware how serious her reliance on pills has grown, until she finds herself trying to score from a couple of lowlifes she went to high school with at a local dive bar. On a weekday. Before noon.

When she finally drags herself to an AA meeting, she runs into Daniel (Morgan Freeman), Nathan's estranged father. Daniel's life was also turned upside down by Allison's accident — he's now taking care of 16-year-old Ryan (Celeste O'Connor), after her mother was killed in the crash — but rather than turn her away from the building, Daniel encourages Allison to stay. The pair forms an unlikely bond as they both work through the pain of their pasts and try to forge a new path forward.

"A Good Person" walks a high-wire of emotion that could easily fall off into an abyss of "This Is Us"-level sentimentality and gooey warm hugs, but is largely able to avoid those traps. Braff, whose 2004 debut film "Garden State" was awash in self-conscious navel gazing (which is to say nothing of his crowdsourced 2014 effort "Wish I Was Here," a misstep all around), mines honesty from his characters and doesn't go for cheap workarounds to their many problems. He allows them to be complicated and to fail and he doesn't rush to pick them up and dust them off afterward. Things don't always come easy to them or for them, and Braff allows them to find their own way through the darkness.

He sets the story in an identifiable, relatable version of New Jersey, and the characters' homes are believably messy and lived in (hats off to production designer Merissa Lombardo). Those details help ground the story, where the precious, indie rock whimsy of "Garden State" actively worked to take viewers out of any sort of version of reality.

As Allison, Pugh is marvelous and appropriately non-glamorous — it takes a lot to un-glam Pugh — and Freeman is excellent in his most substantial role in years. The 85-year-old, who at this point could sleepwalk through a part where he's asked to be warm and grandfatherly, is imperfect and rough around the edges, and Freeman doesn't shy away from Daniel's pricklier aspects. It's great to see the actor challenged once again.

"A Good Person" does occasionally spill over into the realm of the mawkish, and a scene at a party with a gun steps well over the line. But on the whole, it's rooted in truths, it tells a human story and its heart is in the right place. It's a good movie.




Grade: B+

Rated: R (for drug abuse, language throughout and some sexual references)

Running time: 2:09

How to watch: In theaters Friday


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